More than 800 delegates from around 22 countries turned out for the GBTA European conference in Berlin last week.
It was opened by Visit Berlin CEO Burkhard Kieker who gave a speech on developments that led to the fall of the Berlin wall and his experience on the night itself - with the 25 year anniversary celebrations taking place across the city last week.
GBTA’s VP of research Joe Bates spoke on the first full day of the conference and using results from the latest GBTA BTI Outlook report highlighted the projected growth in business travel spend for 2014 and 2015.
The results showed that business travel spending in five critical markets in Europe is expected to hit $147.1 billion by the end of 2014, a 4.9 per cent growth over 2013. The projected rate of growth is expected to increase by another 6.6 per cent in 2015 to $156.8 billion.
This predicted rise was further outlined in an opening keynote speech from Concur CCO Raj Singh.
“The current state of business travel is definitely optimistic,” said Singh. However, he said for the managed travel side of the sector to take advantage it must start to work closer together.
“Travel buyers aren’t interested in petty squabbles between suppliers but want answers to how I can have the best travel management programme.
“Ultimately for us to solve the problem we as an industry must learn to collaborate. The travel world can exist where supplier and different vendors are connected. If you can connect everything and have transparency it will create a better programme for your travellers.”
Tim Clark CEO of Emirates was joined on centre stage by Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary in an entertaining session moderated by GBTA’s senior VP of global development Paul Tilstone.
Clark started by outlining the importance of safety in aviation in the wake of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 disaster earlier this year. Clark spoke of his disappointment that the victims’ families are still awaiting answers into the incident.
“I could see the plane was taken down under a carefully orchestrated operation. It irritates me that people suggest it was an accident. The grief families went through needs to be changed and there are ways governments and airlines can help to mitigate these.
“The flight path MH17 took should never have happened,” Clark added.
Ryanair CEO O’Leary said many European primary airports are “begging” the airline to use them.
He admitted the airline has been "late to the party" when it comes to business travel but said it is now ready to step up and is targeting primary airports as a big part of that push.
"It's a total misconception that airports are central, you only have to look at Heathrow which is located in Middlesex," said O'Leary. "We've woken up late to this market but are now looking to fly to a lot more primary airports, as they're begging us to do it.
"However, we are making the airports we fly to primary. Stansted for example is the closest London airport to Cambridge where many of the large IT firms are based so they will look to use us when doing business in Europe.
"That's why we're opening up more and more bases in countries like Germany and it's becoming more obvious businesses don’t want to be paying £400-£500 for an airfare for a one-hour flight."
Throughout the conference there were a number of breakout sessions. Marc Zuber, group procurement manager at Nestle gave a presentation on managing traveller behaviour and said a broad understanding of the travel sector and equipping travellers with the right tools are key to keeping them engaged in the programme.
“At Nestle we have an understanding of what the travel category is not just at a regional but also global level as it’s very important to have a single point of contact that can explain what it stands for and what are the opportunities and pitfalls,” said Zuber.
“So we get these people informed and also supply them with a tool kit that enables them to engage with stakeholders and travellers.
“In our western markets engaging with travellers using technology is essential as is setting up focus groups to identify our key travellers and organising one or two meetings with them to really understand their needs.”
He also warned against using gamification if you already have a travel programme that works.
“I believe [gamification] has a place in travel as long as it is used for the right benefits, I don’t think it should be used as a means to get compliance.”
One of the central issues throughout the three-day conference was around mobile technology and its role in managed travel. Neil Laidler senior director of sales at Mobile Travel Technologies said mobile will be the most “disruptive” change to travel over the next few years, from a corporate travel and TMC perspective.
He said mobile has the ability to influence behaviour but the tools available to the traveller must add value and engage with the end user or they will be deleted.
O’Leary also spoke about the “mobile revolution” and said it won’t be long before business travel operates in a mobile first world.
The final session of the conference saw NH Hotels CEO Federico Gonzales, Airbnb regional manager for Germany and central and south eastern Europe, Christopher Cederskog and HRS CEO Tobias Ragge discuss technology disruptors in managed travel.
A lot of the session centred on Airbnb’s rise in business travel. Despite Cederskog stating that 10 per cent of its bookings now come from the sector HRS boss Ragge dismissed the ‘sharing economy’ firm from having any real influence in the future.
"I would not consider using it as I want the services that a hotel offers such as free wifi.
"I don’t see Airbnb or similar companies making a major breakthrough in managed travel,” he added.
The GBTA VDR European conference was held at the Maritim hotel Berlin.
Click here to read about Michael O'Leary's thoughts on primary airports and a heated discussion around the rise of Airbnb.